American OO Today

The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Friday, May 19, 2017

More OO Reefers of Mystery

A few years back I had an article on some reefer sides of mystery, which I am fairly sure now are actually Yardmaster sides, but have not yet been able to confirm the guess with a kit.

Today I have two more reefers of mystery, real mystery cars as I have over the past few years put together a pretty extensive list of reefer sides and car numbers, based on my observations and lists created by prior OO gaugers.

Starting with the side view, I think these sides are by two different makers. Starting with the PFE reefer, the sides of this car are scribed physically to represent boards, the printing is all legible, and was clearly produced by a printing process. The Swift car however has printed lines to represent the boards and the lettering is not exactly the same on each side. I believe they were done by hand one by one, with the small lettering represented by simple marks. Still though, the sides of both cars match in that they are on cardstock of a similar thickness and type.

The roof and ends don’t give clues to manufacturer of either. A look at the bottom of both cars reveals that the bodies are not Picard, they are something exotic. The actual bodies might be by the same maker, the roof pitch is identical and steeper than typical.

I have for years been sorting parts out, and a few parts come up that don’t match known cars. I actually have another body that matches the Swift body exactly, the PFE body being slightly different (perhaps modified by the builder of the model). The main detail is that there are no end blocks on the bodies such as you see on Picard bodies. The floor is full length, the same as the roof and sides.

So, with this article I will put out to readers again, I would love to see a Yardmaster kit (a group of them were listed at the Morlok auction, they were produced), and I would also invite readers to sort out their reefers and see if these same models come up for you. The Swift car is probably a scratchbuilding project by some modeler long ago, but the PFE car I think is by a very small maker, interested in your ideas. My initial guess is the manufacturer is someone very early like maybe Raymond Willey, part of his advertised “complete line” of OO models (more here)—but it may be at this point there is actually no way to tell who produced this PFE reefer.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Quick look: Oxford Diecast OO vehicles

It is hardly news that there are British lines of 1/76 scale with every imaginable OO product. One line I noted was Oxford Diecast and their line of vehicles.

I purchased these two on Amazon, kind of a treat for myself. The majority of the line is of European prototypes, some of which of course were exported to the USA.

This pair are sharp models and of vehicles I recall seeing growing up in Kansas, there were examples of the VW Golf and Vanagon truck roaming around town.

It is very interesting to compare these accurately scaled 1/76 models with the cars I have been using. Most were in the same size range at least, and the comparison is favorable with these models for example:

The Oxford Diecast models almost seem too good to take out of their boxes, when they arrive they are packed like this in a plastic "jewelry box."

Presently I am running 1950s era trains again, but when the 70s/80s return next these will be out in prime locations. Certainly, every American OO enthusiast should treat themselves to at least a couple of these, and undoubtedly I will pick up a few more over time.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

News! Tichy decals available in 1/76 scale

I have decaled a lot of models over the years. Big picture, mostly I have used Champion decals, initially purchased from them directly before they went out of business, and later a good stock was obtained in a couple lot purchases. I also have some vintage Walthers and Scale-Craft decals. Of the three, Champ decals work well but the Walthers and S-C ones tend to look maybe a little better on OO cars, the lettering is a bit “heavier” and closer to OO (Walthers was the actual manufacturer of late S-C decals, more here).

But vintage decals are not easy to work with. They tend to take LONG soaking times and then be both a bit fragile and at the same time difficult to get to snuggle down well. Kind of depends on the car but generally I had taken to using Microscale HO decals. They work fine but the lettering is a little small/fine. Even making use of those, some models had me stuck, I could not find decals that would work well, especially this Picard covered hopper. It was completed more than a year and a half ago! (More here).

Then recently it was posted on the Facebook American OO Scale Railroading group that Tichy would supply their decals scaled to American OO. These are a game changer!

Their decals are applied a little differently than others I have used. I followed their directions exactly (found in the printed version of the decal catalog, included with my order) and used Solvaset as recommended. On some vintage decals Solvaset is dangerous, they break apart, so I normally use more gentle Microscale products. In this case, the Tichy decals went on beautifully with Solvaset! No bubbles to poke, on perfectly the first time. That alone is a huge time saver. I probably need to adjust my normal way of applying decals.

This second photo shows the comparison of the Tichy OO set to vintage Champion HO. I am very excited about the OO sets. The two tank cars seen in this article were both sitting around ready to decal for more than six months, I just was not enthused about the decals I had that I could use. Also noting that the Tichy decal sets came with multiple numbers, it will be easy to letter a fleet of UTLX tank cars (which I would like to do).

They have a large line of decals. The website listings seemed small at first, but do some searches and the size of the line will become apparent. They sell a lot of decals suited to OO models (especially roads in the eastern half of the USA), and print them on demand. I also purchased in my first order several sets of PFE reefer decals I will try as soon as I get some cars painted.

The way to buy them is to contact the owner via the contact page in their website. He will quote you the price (a bit higher than HO decals would be, and there is a minimum order) and I found the service to be quite quick. Website:

Again, for me, these are a game changer and do check them out. Even if you are a Lionel collector there are decals that closely match those seen on Lionel cars, you can do some very interesting (and prototypically accurate) restorations with these decals.

[Adding the note that, in spite of the April 1 date of the post, it is not April Fool's, these are a real product!]

Saturday, March 11, 2017

So how big are Scale-Craft and Lionel OO tank cars?

I am curious about many things in OO. A conversation in the Facebook American OO Scale Railroading group – a thread on decals – led to a side discussion on the size of Scale-Craft OO tank cars and also Lionel.

Originally, I was thinking to simply update an earlier article (on two Athearn tank car conversions, here), but the topic is big enough to expand into an article.

To begin, I was thinking they were 10,000 gallon cars, mainly because they looked to me like scaled up versions of what I took to be 10,000-gallon HO cars. But it is not that simple, as lots of HO tank car models are really just approximations, they are not real prototypical (for example the classic Athearn models, which is why they work as conversions to OO).

Lionel was never specific as to size or prototype in their catalogs. But it was pointed out that in the 1937 Scale Craft catalog their model is described as being, quoting the catalog, an “A.R.A. 8000-Gallon Tank Car,” “used universally by all the large oil companies and railroads.” The 8,000-gallon figure is used in all subsequent catalogs until the final one (the Round Lake catalog), where the text is tightened up and the figure is omitted. Beginning in 1938 they also note that the car is “modeled from the drawings of the American Car Foundry.”

Looking at another resource, the recently published Kalmbach publication Freight Cars of the ‘40s and ‘50s, I also note that ACF “built cars for UTLX and other car operators from its own successful car designs,” and that the X3 was "the most common tank car of the transition era." It would be classified as an ICC type 103 car, but that does not indicate size, just that it is a “general-purpose, non-pressure car.”

That information is all good, but what I needed though was a way to calculate the size of the models by tank size. Fortunately, a link was posted to information on a Sunshine Models kit (here), with prototype information. They note that “The Union Tank Line's X-3 was the most numerous tank car in the U.S. during the classic era. The X-3 was as close to a standardized tank car as the nation's railroads came.” For us though the money quote is this: "The 37'5" frame X-3s carried an 8'7" diameter 10,000 gallon or a 6'4" diameter 8,000 gallon ("skinny 8") tank."

With that info and my scale rule and calipers, the S-C tank car (top photo) diameter is around 7'4" and must have a capacity of around 9,000 gallons. In the earlier article, I had converted an Athearn model (middle photo), that has a diameter around 6'9" so that is about 8,000 gallons in OO (and the actual length is a bit longer than the S-C model, also seen in the middle photo). Finally, the Lionel model (bottom photo) scales out about 7'6" diameter, so let’s say it is about 9,000 gallons as well. The frames on all three cars being within 4" or so of 37'5", with Lionel very close to on the money for length, compared to the dimension given of the UTLX X3.

Overall, I think the S-C car is a pretty decent model of the X-3 and looks quite nice on Schorr trucks. My guess is that S-C either made the tank too big by accident, or were aiming to create a model that was a good average in look between the 8,000 gallon and 10,000 gallon versions -- and then backed away from that in actual marketing. Lionel followed their lead and made a similar looking car, with just enough changed details to catch your eye. I like both cars!

UPDATE: But would note a very valid comment (thank you Stefan B., who got the whole conversation rolling), 8,000 and 10,000-gallon were the standard sizes of the era. Making a car that was an average of the two visually, while maybe a good general idea in those early years of the hobby, leaves us today with OO tank car models that "look right" (to us) but actually are not correct. It would be an interesting project to build an accurate 10,000-gallon car, as the Athearn kitbash 8,000 gallon car is noticeably smaller (middle photo) than the S-C and Lionel models.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Looking at Scale-Craft six-wheel tender trucks

One product that I have not noted much here in this site yet are the six-wheel trucks sold with the Scale-Craft 4-8-4 and the later version of the 4-6-2.

Not that the topic has never come up, I used a nice pair of these on the tender of this locomotive (see more at this link) some years back. Then, I had no issues with the trucks other than attaching them to the tender, which I did with flat head screw and a nut up inside the tender. There is no room to screw them on conventionally.

Fast forward to now. I am working on a pair of S-C 4-8-4 models. The one that had been rebuilt by Pierre Bourassa, he actually used brass HO sideframes for a similar truck and worked out his own trucks, which was a great solution to a thorny truck problem.

Thorny problem? Short version of this topic is that S-C tender trucks are always problematic for electrical pickup, and then with this particular six-wheel truck there are yet more issues to work with.

One issue is the zinc material is not real strong in thin sections. This SC tender truck is not as robust as their other trucks, so on a number of sideframes I have the pins are broken off. You can almost feel the swear words looking at the parts even now.

The wiring method recommended by S-C for all their models was to pick up power from the tender trucks only. You were to wire feeders to the bolster clips on both sides of the trucks. The zinc material of the trucks, though, is not a great electrical conductor. On my smaller S-C locomotives I always use Nason trucks with bronze sideframes on the tenders.

So on the other 4-8-4 model I have, which came to me complete, the builder took an interesting route. He must have had some pins break off, so he took off all the pins (!) and drilled out the posts to take screws (!) and – get this – used parts from Nason six-wheel passenger trucks to replace the entire bolster setup of the original S-C design. The big plus of all this work being at least you could connect a wire to the brass Nason parts easily.

There was one other modification this builder made, clearly one end of one sideframe broke off, as in one complete journal box, and he used very small screws and shim brass to repair the sideframe! “The things people did before Facebook.”

Turning to my parts supply and analyzing what I had I found loose parts for five more complete trucks, of which I built up four. One side point to mention is that S-C axles are not all the same length and these trucks will take (and work the best with) the longest of their axles. So I went through my S-C wheelset supply with calipers, and the 12 best of the longest examples are on those two pair of trucks.

To the scale drawings, one thing that you would wonder is how do you attach these trucks to a tender? The answer is with cotter pins. There really is no room to screw anything on, and that is the attachment method used on my complete engine.

Which brings me to now. The next project is taking the trucks on the complete model off and apart to clean them up and get the wheels in gauge. At that point I will analyze their future use. I may replace them with a pair of stock trucks I just assembled from parts (and salvage off the Nason parts to fix a Nason passenger truck), but if I can get them rolling well I will probably leave them as they are.

On the Pierre engine, though, I will use his HO based trucks and NWSL wheelsets for optimal pickup. His tender is shortened anyway, so a slightly short wheelbase does match the model.

And now I am ahead one more job, I now have trucks to use on my 4-6-2 project tender.

To close, if you are working on an S-C 4-8-4 or 4-6-2 tender and need some sideframes, I have a lot of them extra, along with some parts for the bolsters, just let me know your needs. Happy to help others get models back in operable shape.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A great NYC streamlined Pullman

I was at a train show a couple weekends ago and noted on a big HO modular layout they were running a long ATSF streamliner, which included one NYC Pullman that would have been a car running through from New York on a train such as the Chief.

That splash of color reminded me to get back to featuring the wonderful OO models built by James Trout (more on him here). This car he clearly built to go with his ATSF streamline cars in the same manner as I saw at the show.

The car itself is mostly wood and card. The exterior is not that exceptional by itself – The paint is a bit faded and I suspect it was a quick build for him – but the entire car as a whole is impressive. The sides are a thick cardboard material and it is all hand painted and neatly lettered with his artists’ hand. It is rolling on Schorr trucks and there are hardly any visible commercial parts. I believe that some underbody details are now missing, I will give those a closer look soon, but what is not missing are the interior details. It is all there, nothing rattling around. The only major thing missing is there is no car name. Either he could not decide what name to use or he opted to leave it blank, you can use your imagination which car it depicts.

Click on either of these last two shots for a closer look. The level of interior detail is really quite nice, but actually simply done. All it really has are walls and chairs made from the old Suydam wood stock, with arms added as appropriate and painted nicely. Makes me want to go back to some of my own “completed” models and bring those details up a few levels, I do have the parts to do it and it would not be hard to duplicate his level of detail.

One final thing to note, unlike the heavyweight cars featured earlier in this series (such as this combine), this one has plenty of truck swing and could be sat right on my layout and operated through the curves. A bigger layout would be handy, though.

Part of my mix of projects now is to look closer at his ATSF streamline cars (including one left unfinished), more on those in the coming months.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A short tale of driver springs

Among projects underway I am trying to get two S-C 4-8-4s running again. One came to me complete but not operable, and the other I refer to as the “Pierre” engine, Pierre Bourassa had converted it to a 4-8-2 with a Canadian cab but not real successfully. That one came to me in parts and the drive (original type frame) was in short a mess with non-standard drivers, etc.

Luckily for the Pierre engine I was able to locate (unexpectedly) an essentially complete “section 1” of the model, post-war version, which is the drive and frame, with wheels, almost assembled and missing some parts (but parts I had). Looking both projects over from that point I realized that both engines only had two of their four driver springs. The original drive produced for this model used a sand-cast bronze frame, but the post war version had a built up frame with sprung drivers.

My ace in the hole here though is I have a third “kit” for a 4-8-4 that is about 90% complete, and some additional parts beyond that, the product of years of sorting parts that came from various sources. So the good news was I had six additional springs; now both of these models have (or will have) four truck springs.

Another good news item is I thought the metal holding the drive gears of the complete model had warped, but actually I was able to get it to loosen up and work. Even more good news being the motor works too. So the next project for this engine is to convert it to a modern rectifier and I am optimistic it will run without too much further effort beyond the changes needed to the tender. Then on to the Pierre engine and other projects.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A look at the Nason 2-8-0 boiler

I don’t think that I am alone in saying that there is a vintage charm to sand cast models. I have no desire to do any actual sand casting now, but I do respect the process (described further in this article) and the effort needed to build a great model from the parts produced.

Which brings us to these boilers for the Nason 2-8-0, a model introduced in 1937. I had over the years obtained most of the parts for one model (with tender) and some extra parts, but recently saw the second boiler on eBay (the shiny one) and it spoke to me too, as in my parts I had an extra cab roof and several extra boiler fronts, both of which it was missing.

The boiler, alone, weighs in at 13 ounces. Nason chose the prototype undoubtedly due to the wide firebox allowing room for a good sized motor. The shiny one was worked on more by a prior owner, even if it was not as assembled. Quite a bit of effort went into smoothing the surface and also it is notable that they drilled out the smokestack.

As to my plans for these boilers, I have one original frame with matching side rods, almost enough parts to put together a model, and additionally I have enough extra Johann/Mantua drivers to get it going well (but I have to turn two into blind drivers first…). For the other boiler I am inclined to look for a HO mechanism for 4-8-4 (find a junker at a show…) and work it over, using as many other original parts as I can from my parts supply. Ideally the donor drive will also take these same Johann/Mantua drivers, of which I have extras that could be used on this model (the diameter being the same as the original Nason drivers, I just don't have a usable set of them).

And back to the general topic of bronze OO locomotives, my present main project is working on a group of locos, non-running, many with bronze boilers. Besides visualizing the parts I have and what needs done the big issue is drivers, which will probably be a topic for another article soon, and the good news is I think I have enough drivers (and parts for drivers) to also get a Nason Hudson and 4-4-2 running, along with also a S-C 0-6-0, a 4-6-2, and a 4-8-4. It is a puzzle but really it has been enjoyable to sort out parts and visualize where the projects need to go.

With a final note being, if you are working on similar puzzles and need a few parts, do feel free to check with me, maybe I can help. It is time to get some of the few remaining of these classic American OO models running again.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A closer look at the Famoco 0-4-0T

This OO model is first seen in print in 1938 (more here) and Famoco had it in production by 1939 (more here). 

First, some background. The prototype 0-4-0T was a somewhat famous engine, in that it worked the Bronx terminal for the CNJ, an intense little operation. Due to clean air laws, this engine was replaced by the well-known early Diesel, CNJ 1000. This article has two prototype photos toward the end, and notes that
The CNJ Bronx Terminal was a very unique terminal located along the Harlem River in The Bronx, New York.  Built in 1906 on a single city block, the CNJ Bronx Terminal was completely isolated from any other railroad, that is, the only way to move freight in and out of the terminal was along the Harlem River on car floats….
CNJ 1000 replaced the 0-4-0T that was in use since 1906.  CNJ 840 was still used as a backup locomotive from time to time, but the main power from 1926 on was CNJ 1000.
Mention is made in the September, 1938 Model Craftsman photo caption that the original OO scale model, by Ted Menten (founder/owner of Famoco), was based on 1935 drawings in MC, published in the October issue. Looking at the model first as produced, one first impression is the cab might be over scale. Standard width of prototype equipment would be 9’ 4” to 9’ 6” but this cab is almost 11 feet wide. But actually the width matches that given in the scale drawings he was working with.

This prototype photo is reproduced from the Model Craftsman article and provides a good comparison. There are a few compromises, the most obvious two being that the side tanks should be longer (less space in front of cab), and the windows and doors are undersized. Looking closer, the model would also benefit from larger domes, larger cylinders, and also that angle at the lower rear edge of the coal bunker would have been a nice touch to emulate. Maybe the cab a bit oversized?

Back in 1938 though the big issue was fitting a motor in a model this small! Menten did it the same way that the 1935 article proposed (for an O gauge model), placing a squat, tall motor in the cab (a big cab does help), gearing it directly to the rear driver. This final photo shows the arrangement pretty well. The frame itself is kind of ingenious, it is a brass stamping, and the drivers would have been mounted and quartered on that frame at the factory. Every part is either a brass turning or sheet brass. In fact the side tanks are solid pieces of brass! They act as weights.

My model lacks a rear coupler at present but it does run. I have noted elsewhere, Famoco wheelsets often are not up to NMRA standards for width, and this model is of that type. The treads are too narrow and it derails on my turnouts. If I were wanting to operate this model I would need to replace the drivers. I believe buyers back in the day might have felt a little disappointed with this model for that reason too, after the effort to build it. It is cute and nicely designed but does not operate well in reality. But still a collectible model and one to enjoy if you have an example.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A modern boxcar, finished

Back a few months ago I posted on a boxcar that was nearly done, which is finally done.

Recapping what I did, I had many years ago (in high school, probably) purchased an Athearn 80’ boxcar body thinking I could do something with the sides to make a nice OO model. Subsequently, I did nothing for years … but then the frame you see also came to me in the OO Inventory. The body was missing from a model Bill Johan built. What to do?

After a lot of pondering I finally put the body to use, built it to match the frame, and ultimately opted to letter it for my Orient, matching the recent Diesel projects.

The frame shows when Johann worked on the model, he marked his models well. I will mark the body inside, although pretty obviously I built it. Originally the car body must have been orange (ATSF reefer?) and I left the orange paint on the extended draft gears.

A final note on the topic -- I think I have got the modern thing worked out of my system for a while! I like getting these models out and running them, they look more like the trains I grew up with and run well. But I have no further modern projects planned as of now. What I have out now are a group of steam locomotive basket cases, I have a NWSL quartering jig coming, too many locomotive projects stuck for lack of drivers, but also really all the parts I need to get them going. Will be an exciting and worthy project to get moving forward on them this coming year.